The household benefits package (HHB) comprises the electricity or gas allowance, and the free television licence. My Department will spend approximately €248 million this year on HHB for over 440,000 customers. The package is generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who satisfy a means test. The package is also available to some people under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments.
From 1 April 2012, new applicants in receipt of Carers Allowance who are not living with the person for whom they provide care are not entitled to the household benefits package. Carers who live with the person they are caring for still have an entitlement of their own to the household benefits package and do not have to satisfy the household composition criteria.
The Government values the role of carers very much and it is for this reason that they receive significant income supports from the Department. In addition to carer’s allowance carers receive additional support in the form of free travel and household benefits (for those who live with the person for whom they care) and the annual carers support grant (€1700) in respect of each person for whom they care. Where a person is in receipt of certain qualifying social welfare payments, and also providing full time care and attention to another person, they can keep their primary social welfare payment and also get the half-rate carer's allowance.
Any decision to change the qualifying criteria for HHB would have budgetary consequences and would have to be considered in the context of budget negotiations.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.